NEW YORK METRO AREA fans of oldies-format radio suffered for two years after the unceremonious dumping of WCBS 101.1's on-air personalities and playlist for the vile JACK FM format. For months, the station didn't even feature DJs. They touted it as being like a very cool iPod on shuffle play, calling upon the biggest playlist in the Tri-State Area. They even had the balls to call themselves a "freeform" station. To all this puffery I took great exception: The coolest shuffle-locked iPod, and the hugest playlist, in this area both belong to THE freeform station of the nation, the Fun 91, WFMU. Gagging at the concept of a playlist that could include both Black Sabbath and Jessica Simpson, I removed 101.1 from my car stereo, and many area pizzerias, barbershops, garages, and beauty salons likewise tuned out of the station that had provided their audio background for so long.
In the aftermath, I had to concede that CBS has invited its demise by straying from its core playlist. In an attempt to stay hip, they had added Eighties hits into the mix. Make no mistake, I am a huge fan of Eighties music, but it doesn't belong in the CBS lineup. Think of the first third of Goodfellas. Recall American Graffiti. That's what CBS-FM should sound like. You want to hear things like "Blueberry Hill," "Charlie Brown," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Shout," and of course, "Then He Kissed Me." The sort of music you'd expect to hear while buzzing the Mekong Delta, mourning Jack Kennedy, or chatting with the Fonz.
These hits were instead replaced by noncontextual audio hangnails like "Abracadabra," "We Built This City (On Rock and Roll)," and a depressing bucket of soundalike retro crap from Billy Joel: "Keeping the Faith," "Uptown Girl," and "We Didn't Start the Fire." I didn't want to hear a listing of the era in which CBS's playlist first got airtime; I wanted to hear the era's actual fucking songs! So when the station, listing and vulnerable, was picked off by a nimble competitor, I had to believe it was complicit in its own decline. Still, I missed what it once had been.
Fast forward two years. The only place I heard anything like CBS's old format was out in Las Vegas, on a Clear Channel station of all things. As we gritted our teeth through the recent heat wave, however, rumors surfaced that the JACK was about to be aced. The news went forth: WCBS-FM would return to its oldies format! Based on the radio spots, it sounded like they were setting the clock back to 2005, because they intended to include Eighties music.
So it was with some trepidation that I kicked on the JACKless CBS FM on Thursday morning, hoping to hear something like "Sugar Sugar," "Oh What a Night," or even the staple "Rock Around the Clock."
Instead, what do I get?
Oy, it's gonna be a long road back from the JACK.